Research: Resilience in fostered young people

Resilience refers to the qualities that cushion a vulnerable child from the worst effects of adversity and that may help a child or young person to cope, survive and even thrive in the face of great hurt and disadvantage. While it may not always be possible to protect a child from further adversity, finding ways to boost a child’s resilience should enhance the likelihood of better long-term outcomes.

Research evidence from follow-up studies of people who have been fostered suggests that some of the difficulties that young people initially experience upon leaving the care system – loneliness, unemployment, debt and settling down – subsequently improve, with some young people re-establishing friendly contact with foster families even after serious breakdowns. It is probably only a minority, albeit a substantial one at around 30 per cent, who get into serious difficulties in the long term.

Research has identified a number of “resilience enhancing factors” that can help children in unfavourable circumstances or times of difficulty. Resilience factors can include access to a caring relationship with one main adult such as foster carers and teachers and can also include contact between a child and their birth families.

Self-esteem is one of the fundamental building blocks of resilience. Principally, self-esteem flows from positive attachment experiences, but can be enhanced by participation in valued activities. It is about feeling successful, not simply academically, but also in other areas such as in relationships or in spare time activities. This means that encouraging foster children to take part in school activities which they enjoy can be an important source of self-esteem.

Research from young people with care experience has identified several areas that could help bolster the self-esteem of young people in care including making the effort to show that you care about the children and young people who you work with, even if the relationship is short term, shows them that you value them. Simple displays of sincerity will increase self-esteem.

Research has shown that self-esteem is closely linked with developing a sense of self-efficacy or self-direction. Self-efficacy grows from experience. It is about qualities of optimism, persistence and believing that one’s own efforts can make a difference. Research shows that a person’s sense of self-efficacy is improved by opportunities to define their own outcomes and be involved in the development of services.

After their family, young people find school the most important thing to them. Teachers and other adults in schools can listen to students, refrain from judgement and develop strong, caring relationships with them. The offer of a close relationship with a school counsellor appears to be a key resilience-enhancing factor for foster children.

Practitioners’ Messages
● Work to actively promote a positive image of young people from care.
● Recognise, respect and reward the unique and special skills and talents of all the young people from care in England.
● Young people should have access to other groups of young people from care and a 24-hour care helpline service should be established.
● Involve children in discussions about their needs and their future.
● Help them to contribute to care plans and reviews, ensure that their wishes are always considered and where possible 
● Give clear information, making sure that young people know about their reasons for entering into and remaining in care, their rights while they are in care and future plans about hem and how they can influence these.
● Try to regard young people as resources (rather than problems) in process of seeking solutions in their lives.
● Encourage young people to make choices, declare preferences and define outcomes for themselves and respect these preferences.
● Encouragement from carers and the presence of other children who can model academic involvement and success.
● Remember the importance of “educational supports” (someone attending school events, access to local library, information on education rights and entitlements).

Further information
Resource guide 4: Promoting resilience in fostered children and young people
Knowledge review 04: Innovative, tried and tested: a review of good practice in fostering
Practice guide 03: fostering
A National Voice

Related article
Research Abstracts: Resilience in Young People

This article appeared in the 24 May issue under the headline “Resilience in fostered young people”

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